Stomach-churning scenes from horror movies where worms crawl out of body parts and organs are enough to make anybody cringe, the only saving grace is that it's a work of fiction.
Well, not any longer. A woman from Oregon has become the first person in the world to acquire an eye infestation by a tiny worm species that has been previously seen only in cattle.
Abbey Beckley, 28, had first spotted the creatures back in 2016 while working on a commercial fishing boat in Alaska. Two weeks into the trip, she had felt something twitch behind her eyelids.
About five days later, upon reaching the shore, she tried to dig out what she had previously assumed was an eyelash – but instead discovered a wriggling worm that had left her skin inflamed.
Despite going to an eye doctor – who managed to pull out four more worms – her condition was still unknown.
Finally, when she was transferred to an eye specialist in Portland and was able to get her samples sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The experts there were able to conclude that she had contracted Thelazia gulosa. As Daily Mail Online reported, this parasite had never been seen in humans and spreads by flies that feed on eyeball lubrication.
In an interview with CNN, Abbey had spoken about the immediate symptoms of the infestation. "I was getting migraines too, and I was like, 'What is going on?'" To her shock and horror, she said, "[...] It was moving. And then it died within about five seconds."
Over the course of 20 days, a total of 14, translucent worms were extracted from Abbey's eyes. All less than half an inch long, if these worms remain in a person's eyes for a prolonged time, it can even cause blindness, said researchers in a study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
"Cases of eye worm parasitic infections are rare in the USA, and this case turned out to be a species of the Thelazia that had never been reported in humans," lead author of the study, Richard Bradbury, said.
While previous cases of such eye worms have been reported worldwide – mostly in Europe and Asia – people living closer to animals and in poor living conditions are more at risk of acquiring the infestation.